Certified Translation: What Does it Mean?

A quote for a certified translation (birth/marriage/degree certificate, etc.) triggers all sorts of reactions: some expect the translation to take little more than the time it takes to read the document and the cost to be no more than £15, while others let a sigh of relief when they hear that it won’t cost them a three-digits figure.

Official documents present little information and it may seem like there is hardly anything to translate. But the translated version needs to look as identical to the original as is technically possible, and since the original is always a scan (i.e. a PDF or, worse, a JPG) rather than a Word file, the document must be reproduced from scratch and the formatting work can be as time-consuming as the translation itself. Then there are those small-print paragraphs of legal jargon that no one ever reads tucked away in the corner, the handwriting to decipher, the stamps overlapping and blurring some printed text that needs translating… In a nutshell, a lot of clicking, fiddling around, squinting and head-scratching guaranteed to slow you down.

So how long does it really take? Well, as a rough guide, a typical British birth or marriage certificate takes 2 hours. Having said that, after doing a few such documents, a translator can reuse former ones as templates, although they never seem to be exactly the same, with the legal parts being sometimes at the top, sometimes at the bottom, sometimes worded differently, the font and colours changing from one document to another… So even recycling a document will often be an hour’s work.

Then the certification involves printing the scan of the original, the translation and a formal letter stating the translator’s details, qualifications and relevant professional memberships (with the official logo or seal); signing the three documents (I also stamp all documents with my business stamp); stapling them together; and finally going to the nearest letter box.

While translators do not charge hundreds of pounds for a short official document, the work clearly takes a little longer than it takes to read the page.

You may also like to read this short page from the Home Office.

letter box

The letter box that swallows most of my certified translations

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